VOL. 129 | NO. 76 | Friday, April 18, 2014
Election Commission May Move Initial Early Voting Site
By Bill Dries
Shelby County Election Commissioners certified the ballot Wednesday, April 16, for the Aug. 7 state and federal primary elections and the nonpartisan judicial and Shelby County Schools board elections on what politicos call the “big ballot.”
The bulk of the ballot was certified the same day the early voting period opened for the May primaries at Election Commission headquarters Downtown at 157 Poplar Ave.
Election Commission turnout figures show 267 citizens voted early on the first day.
Satellite early voting locations across Shelby County open April 25.
And Election Commissioners said Wednesday they will discuss possibly changing the first site of early voting in future elections to a more central location than the Downtown offices.
Election commissioner Norma Lester called for a new site and also said campaign signs outside the 100-foot legal limit for such signage around a polling place are creating a traffic hazard for cars pulling out of parking places around the office onto Poplar Avenue.
“It looks horrible down there,” she said.
Some of the signs have been relocated by county support services, said elections administrator Richard Holden, not because they violated the 100-foot limit but out of concerns that they block the view of traffic and pedestrians.
“For the value when you consider some of the other sites, there are days when there’s probably no one going in there.”
–Election Commissioner Norma Lester
Election commissioner Steve Stamson said he wants to see figures on early voter turnout at 157 Poplar for the last five elections and estimates of what it would cost to move the early voting site to a nongovernment building elsewhere.
“I worked Downtown for 30 years, and I know that county employees, city employees, lawyers, people that work Downtown do use that site to vote early,” he said. “I used that site to vote early myself.”
Lester said for those who have to park, the location is a challenge.
“There are some people that use it,” Lester countered. “But for the value when you consider some of the other sites, there are days when there’s probably no one going in there.”
Shelby County voters had 14 elections on seven ballots in 2012 and 2013.
A Daily News analysis of the three 2012 elections that involved countywide primary and general elections for some, but not the bulk of, the offices on the 2014 ballots shows in the early voting period before the March 2012 primaries, the Downtown site accounted for about 1,000 of the 21,355 early votes.
Early voting totals in advance of the Aug. 2, 2012, state and federal primaries and general elections for county offices showed the Downtown site accounted for 2,000 of the 62,601 early votes, and 319 of the 2,000 early votes cast Downtown were in the period before the rest of the satellite locations opened.
In advance of the Nov. 6, 2012, ballot featuring the presidential general election, all of the early voting sites, including Downtown, opened at the same time. The Downtown location accounted for 6,976 of the 232,691 early votes. Eleven other early voting sites across the county had individual early vote totals over 10,000.
Until state election law changed in recent years, early voting had to open at the offices of county election commissions. But with the changes, Holden said, that is no longer a requirement.
But Holden, who was an election commissioner before becoming elections administrator, was quick to add that the location of early voting sites is inherently political.
Holden was a Republican election commissioner when Democrats had the three-member majority on the body and remembered the majority pushing hard to keep the 157 Poplar location as the primary early voting site even when the Election Commission moved its Downtown offices to neighboring 150 Washington Ave.
“There is an incredible complication politically … with regard to the politics of the location to which you move,” Holden added. “If you move to Midtown, the folks there are happy and the folks in Whitehaven are unhappy. If you move to Raleigh, the folks in Midtown are unhappy. … There’s more options available and more latitude than there has been in the past. From my perspective as administrator, it’s a political decision.”
The August 2014 ballot is the longest of any election cycle in Shelby County politics because of judicial races, which are for eight-year terms.
The ballot will be complete once winners of the May Shelby County primary elections are certified next month. The winners in those races advance to the August county general election ballot.